Candidate Sojka’s Economy Bolstering Programs Approved

Sojka delivers Business Advocate, Business Roundtable for City

Pro-business ‘Vision’ adopted by City Council as part of 2010-11 balanced budget

SIMI VALLEY – Simi Valley City Councilman Steve Sojka announces approval of two of his proposals to bolster the local economy in Simi Valley. The addition of a Business Advocate and Business Roundtable for the City of Simi Valley were included as part of the Council’s approval of the fiscal 2010-11 Budget on June 21.

“Even though I can say we are more business friendly than we were 12 years ago, we are not where we need to be,” said Sojka, the leading candidate for Mayor of Simi Valley in the November election. “This is a step toward where we need to be.

“It comes down to streamlining the process, which creates jobs, and more jobs creates a better local economy, which creates a better City budget.”

The Council on Monday approved, as part of the budget for the Community Development Agency, a Business Advocate. This senior management analyst position would focus purely on assisting any business existing or planning to open in Simi Valley with any necessary action such as proposed improvements, relocating here, or application processes.

The Council also concurred on Steve Sojka’s proposal to form a Business Roundtable to bring together businesses that already have gone through City processes, along with City administrators, management and even the City Attorney’s office if necessary to discuss processes and the needs of Simi Valley businesses small, medium or large.

“In tough budget times, it is good to have a vision,” Sojka said, “and that vision is to support, supply, promote and create jobs. With these actions, the City has greatly enhanced its connection to, and liaison with, the local business community,” Sojka said.

The Business Advocate position becomes effective July 1. The Business Roundtable will return to the Council for further discussion in coming weeks.

“I think it’s awesome. Anything the City can do to help a business get through the red tape is a great thing,” said Darrell Coletto, owner of the First Auto Group, a prominent auto dealership in Simi Valley. “The sooner we can help businesses grow and expand, and hire employees, and increase the City’s sales tax revenue and boost the local economy, the better.

“If we can get that done, then these are great ideas,” he said.

Coletto applauded the proactive pro-business actions by Sojka, who currently serves as Chairman of the City’s Small Business Advisory Committee which is responsible for the Shop Simi Valley First campaign.

Steve Sojka is a three-term Simi Valley City Council member, starting in 1998, who twice served one-year shifts as Mayor Pro Tem. A lifetime resident of Simi Valley, he has been a business owner and active community volunteer and leader in Simi Valley for the past 25 years. His father Bob Sojka was Chief of the Simi Valley Police Department; and today Steve Sojka proudly serves on the Board of Directors for the Simi Valley Police Foundation. Sojka and his wife Laura have three children in Simi Valley schools.

Steve Sojka is endorsed for Simi Valley Mayor by current Simi Valley Mayor Paul Miller; Council members Glen Becerra, Michelle Foster and Barbra Williamson; former Mayors Bill Davis, Ginger Gherardi and Ted Grandsen; former City Council member and County Supervisor Vicky Howard; former City Council members Nancy Bender, Dave Reese and Howard Rogo; Simi Valley Board of Education President Jeanne Davis and Trustees Janice DiFatta and Eric Lundstrom; former Simi Valley School Board members Carla Kurachi, Judy Barry and Steven Gould; Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District Board members Gene Hostetler, Mark Johnson and Dee Dee Cavanaugh and former Park District Board member Jim Meredith; Simi Valley Planning Commissioners Mike McGuigan, Tim Shannon and Jim Dantona, Jr.; and former Commissioners Rick Kunz and Bob Swoish.

Sojka also is endorsed by dozens of other leaders from community organizations representing police, education, business and youth sports and services interests. For a complete listing visit www.sojkaformayor.com.

Simi Street Fair This Saturday

The Simi Valley Street Fair is this Saturday, May 9th, between Galena and Sequoia on Cochran Street.  I’ll be there.  I enjoy seeing the businesses come together and I’ve always found the volume of people who attend to be impressive.

A long time ago, I once managed to convince myself that I was important enough to accept the role of Chairman of the Simi Valley Street Fair through the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce.  I was pretty nervous about the job at first, not to mention that shortly before the Street Fair was scheduled, I began a divorce of my first marriage, presenting me with a stressful personal challenge to deal with at the same time.  Despite the concern and stresses, it quickly became evident to me that although I had been named the Chair of the event, the majority of the responsibility fell on the shoulders of professionals with years of experience.

The city liaisons were extremely helpful, not to mention instrumental, with the organization of law enforcement, traffic management, and promotional functions such as hanging Street Fair signs on Cochran and Los Angeles Avenue.  Chamber staff members were key to managing placement of vendors on the street and arranging safety features like concrete barriers on either end of the Fair.  Other promotional and coordination functions were handled by willing and eager volunteers.  It was impressive to see it all come together.  As the Chair of the Event, my job was little more than to accept applause when the event was over.  Undoubtedly, the event is successful as a result of the cooperation and collaboration of the entire team.

I’m definitely interested in seeing if the numbers are as impressive this year at the Simi Valley Street Fair.  Consumer and businesses alike are sensitive to spending, but many vendors in and around Simi Valley depend on the Street Fair as one of their primary promotional and revenue generating venues.  I have high hopes that it’ll be just as successful this year.

If you can, swing by the Street Fair this Saturday and check it out.  If you do stop by, come by here again and leave some comments on what you thought of the Street Fair this year.

No Coverage of State of City Address

One event that I look forward to regularly is the State of the City Address sponsored by the Simi Valley Chamber, presented by Mayor Paul Miller. In better economic times, I recall being very moved and excited about the months to come. While the economic climate has shifted and the city recently adjusted for a $3 million budget reduction, I’m just as eager to hear what’s going on. Considering my recent “interactive” nature, I’d like very much to bring my camera and microphone to share the event with the people who subscribe to my content. But it’s not going to happen. Here’s the scoop:

The Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce will once again host the Mayor’s State of the City Address. The Annual State of the City Address will be presented to the Chamber membership on Friday, February 20 at 11:30 a.m. at the Grand Vista Hotel. The Mayor’s address will provide an overview of City Departments and City Projects. “We appreciate and look forward to the opportunity to present the State of the City and to share in detail how our City is doing. We are all facing challenging times and this event will allow the City Council to provide information and to gain input from our businesses and residents to ensure that we are doing our best job to meet the challenges on behalf of the community,” said Mayor Paul Miller.

There are lots of people who are interested in what goes on here and want to witness it for themselves.  These events cater to elite members of the community, business owners and members of the Chamber of Commerce, so the average Simi Valley citizen cannot attend this middle-of-the-day event.  I think it’s important to see and hear these things for yourself, to be present for tone of voice and hear quotes in context.  But most people most directly impacted by the state of city affairs, the citizens, will be hard at work at their day jobs.

Sponsorship opportunities are available at the following levels: Table Sponsors – $600 for a table of eight or $350 for a table of four. Sponsors will receive preferred seating, table placard, acknowledgement in the Chamber’s Mid Month Mailer and the event program. Tickets are $40 for members and $55 for non-members.

As a business owner and member of the Chamber of Commerce, I’ll invest the $40 to learn more about where things stand with the City of Simi Valley.  However, I’ve tried to bring my camera and microphone to Chamber sponsored events, and it’s a no-go, so unfortunately, most of the rest of us will have to read about it in the newspaper.  If you plan on being there as well, please let me know and perhaps we can meet up afterward to discuss.

In the Simi Valley Acorn Today!

I couldn’t be more delighted about the Simi Valley Acorn article that was published in today’s paper about my efforts to shine a light on Simi Valley.  I truly hope it’s read as a humble effort.  I want very much to be successful with this project, but I certainly don’t believe I’m better than anyone else or more qualified than any of the other community super-stars who are currently making an impact.

Chandler, 34, said his goal in creating the website was to help educate people about the goings-on of local government and to get them excited about the process.

True, that was definitely the idea at first, and certainly what brought VoteSimiValley.com to life, but I want a whole lot more with The Simi Show.  I want to show people that we’ve got a terrific community, full of good people, great businesses, family fun and valuable community services.  The Shop Simi Valley First campaign WILL come up, but it will be less about budgeting and effectiveness and more about why shopping in Simi is just better than leaving the city!

Councilmember Steve Sojka, a proponent of the shop local campaign and chair of the Small Business Advisory Committee, said Chandler’s criticism of Shop Simi is misguided. Sojka said that some local pizza places have bigger advertising budgets than the campaign.

Though they may differ on issues, the council member said he thinks “The Simi Show” is a good idea—if done right.

“It’s good to get people engaged,” Sojka said. “I hope that whatever issue he deals with, he does his research. It’s easy to create a controversy, but you want to see someone who just reports facts in a fair and balanced way. That does the community a good service.”

I like Steve Sojka, but I don’t think he believes that.  He takes my criticism personally it seems and suggesting my criticism is misguided makes me wonder if he understands my point.

Shop Simi Valley First shouldn’t be about targeting the businesses.  Businesses should be participating in the program by contributing to its marketing, not sitting back and waiting for the city to spend money.  Why?  Because they benefit too.  The target is SHOPPERS and if local retail numbers aren’t increasing measurably after spending $100K, then shoppers either aren’t getting the message or it simply isn’t working and new strategy is needed.  Pizza places with $100K marketing budgets have them because they produce measurable, financial results.

I want to find really cool businesses, shops and business owners and showcase them individually, one by one.  It’ll take some time and it’s a slow process, but it’ll show my audience some of our community’s great features, as well as bring in some curious new customers to some retail shops.  Plus, it won’t cost me too much.

Chandler said he hopes to expand “The Simi Show” by inviting outside contributors to add their own content, including interviews, hard news stories and perhaps guest commentaries. He also wants to profile local businesses and cover the landfill expansion issue.

I really want to do as much as I possibly can.  Employment is a big concern for me now considering our economy and I’m feverishly working on a portal to present Simi Valley job seekers with powerful tools to find work.  I’m also a big believer in the power of the Internet and want to provide an online community for everyone in Simi Valley to do the exact same thing that I’m doing.  The technology is there… I just want to open the door and let my fellow Simi Valley citizens join the party.

If that’s misguided, so be it!

Read the full article in the Simi Valley Acorn here.

UPDATE: Brian Dennert mentions the article here.  Thanks Brian!

Simi Valley and Local Businesses

Ted Mackel published one of the most interesting articles I’ve read related to the City of Simi Valley and how they work with local businesses.  As a local business owner, I definitely found his take interesting.  His first point grabbed me immediately…

The Future of Simi Valley Retail is under attack and round one will prove to be tough reality for Simi Valley as the Thousand Oaks Mall will again take shoppers away from local businesses.

It’s an excellent point.  Rumor has it, the Oaks Mall began its redesign phase in direct response to the potential threat to its business resulting in new area malls, namely Simi Valley Town Center.

The opening of the Simi Mall was a well celebrated event in our town, promising an influx of new sales tax dollars to Simi Valley’s general fund.  Of course, small business owners, like Bruce Witkin (former candidate for Simi Valley mayor) were disenchanted by the idea of a mall that takes shoppers from the smaller strip malls and plants them in the Town Center mall, despite the increase tax revenue to the city.  You see, this particular example of increased tax revenue represents a potential loss to small business owners who aren’t in the mall, including restaurants.  Remember Hudson’s Grill?  Who’d have ever expected that restaurant to close?  But they did, and the reason they cited was the loss in foot traffic resulting from the new mall.

Ted goes on to discuss not only the Oaks Mall redesign, but also the Topanga Mall’s planned enhancements as well…

Something this exciting and this large will definitely draw shoppers out of Simi Valley and no matter how much our Chamber of Commerce and our City Council fight to convince Simi Valley residents to “Shop Simi Valley First”,  these two modern and behemoth projects (TO & Westfield) that bookend our town cannot be willed away.  This is like trying to hide and elephant under the living room carpet.

Give the article a read by clicking here.  It’s not a message of doom, but rather a few suggestions from someone with a few generations of real estate development under his belt.

http://www.homebuysblog.com/

Simi Business – Room for Change

This month, the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce will honor its selected Business and Business Person of the Year for 2008.  The honorees are chosen and like most years, the names and businesses are names and businesses you know.  I always hope that each year I’ll read the names of someone I’ve never heard of before whose business or business activites were the diamond in the rough, the quiet hero of the business community.  But it’s never so…

That’s not to say the people the Chamber selects each year aren’t deserving.  They definitely are.  These business people are well known in the community because of their honorable contributions.  However, there are so many more business people and businesses that are members of the Chamber who contribute to the community significantly.  Unfortunately, if they’re not the type to be comfortable in a setting where there’s a lot of handshaking and passing of business cards, their contributions can easily go unnoticed.

For more than 25 years, there was a Simi Valley business owner who contributed significantly to the youth of our city.  His business taught kids physical, athletic skills regardless of whether or not they were naturally gifted athletes.  Many of these student athletes became employees, teaching the next generation what they learned as kids.  Simi Valley kids were taught they could achieve what they thought was impossible, in a nurturing, family-oriented environment.  This business taught without discrimination, including even kids with disabilities, proving to everyone that even kids with special needs could thrive.  This business was a member of the Chamber of Commerce since its opening day, but was never recognized.

This is the story I tell people when they ask me what I’m trying to accomplish with my various websites and online videos.  There’s a lot going on in Simi Valley and the more we all know, the tighter a community we will be.

Waste Management Landfill Tour

This morning, I had the pleasure of touring the Simi Valley Landfill. Yep, I said “pleasure.” It was truly a fascinating experience. About three years ago, I brought several loads to the landfill to dump on a Saturday afternoon and was amazed by all the things to see. The brief experience prompted me to do a little casual research on the workings of landfills. I haven’t really been opposed to the expansion, unlike my favorite Simi Valley City Councilwoman, Barbra Williamson, so I was really hoping this tour would answer some questions about not only what goes on now, but what would be going on at the site should the proposed expansion be approved.

Before I get into my reaction, which admittedly is less than controversial or even interesting, for that matter, I do have to encourage you to take the Simi Valley Landfill tour soon. I didn’t know this, but they’ll take groups through the landfill, sharing and showing the operational aspects of the landfill, from the dumping of solid waste and the sorting and collecting of recyclable material, to the grooming of closed “cells” and collection of natural gas produced by buried waste. The operation as a whole is as impressive as I thought it would be and I highly recommend everyone take the tour BEFORE deciding your position on the expansion project.

The trip started with immediate disappointment when my tour guide, Scott Tignac, District Manager of the Simi Valley Landfill, told me that my video camera wouldn’t be able to join us on the tour since I hadn’t received prior approval. Scott was kind enough to provide me with contact details for the Community Relations Manager so that I can return in the future to take some shots of the operation. Clearly, however, questions about some of the more compelling political issues behind the expansion would go unanswered. The purpose of the tour was to better understand the operation aspects of the landfill and to get an idea of the geographical footprint of the proposed expansion.

The landfill is a heavily scrutinized and regulated operation, but they manage to run it very well. One of the most fascinating aspects of the operation involves bird’s-eye-view photos of the entire property allowing WMI to closely match the landscaping elements of covered portions of the landfill with surrounding, untouched land. The covered cells are groomed and seeded, maintained with reclaimed water for as long as needed until plant life is normally sustained. I was also fascinated by the gas wells throughout the property collecting the natural gas produced by the buried waste. The gas powers the on site offices, but is also funneled to “the grid” generating enough electricity to power several thousand homes.

One point of criticism I’ve heard in the past is that Waste Management uses green waste to spread over the trash that is buried. This turns out to be correct. The practice is completely legitimate, in fact. Solid waste traditionally is covered by dirt. However, 10,000 cubic feet of dirt will always be 10,000 cubic feet of dirt, where as 10,000 cubic feet of green waste can decompose. Not all green waste can be used to spread over solid waste and is recycled and used for various functions, such as compost for example. See correction notes below. *

The daily management of the waste that is processed in the landfill is very laborious. The people working the solid waste burial work 12 hour days sometimes because all waste must be 100% covered/buried by the end of the working day. They don’t go home until that goal is accomplished on a daily basis. Further, it was very surprising to see the the sorting of recyclable materials was a manual process involving quite a few hands.

We did stop to look at the land that Waste Management now owns and intends to use for the proposed expansion. It’s a significant piece of land, very large. If the expansion is approved, the GI Rubbish offices and trucks would be moved up the hill to the landfill, effectively limiting at least some of the existing Madera Road traffic. Plus, the landfill would continue to expand north of the city, rather than moving south towards the city to reach currently planned capacity. And considering the way the landfill is operated currently, I can’t imagine there being a negative impact on residents regarding sights and smells.

From what I was able to see on my tour, I cannot see there being a significantly negative impact on the city of Simi Valley by approving the landfill expansion. The landfill as it is currently has been in place and out of most peoples’ minds fr 35 years. My suspicion is that most people who are opposed to the landfill are opposed because (1) the natural emotional response to a project of this type is to consider our city as “the trash can for neighboring cities near and far” and because (2) it is unclear if or how the City of Simi Valley will benefit by the expansion.

I suspect I’ll be able to form a more solid opinion on the expansion once the complete Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is complete. Until then, I’m just not sold on the idea that it’s harmful to the city. I am sincerely hoping that someone will comment on this post with some reasons for me to see it the way Barbra Williamson sees it. Her mailer is below…

Williamson Anti Expansion Brochure

Williamson Anti Expansion Brochure

* CORRECTION: The State of California allows green waste to be used as an Alternate Daily Cover. In the past, approximately 10% was used in that manner. Currently none of it (0%) is used for daily cover. 99% of the green waste is recycled. The other 1% represents trash that sometimes gets put in the green container that is removed. The green waste is shipped throughout Southern and Central California as a soil amendment. Some of the material is sent to a composting facility where it is refined into products that you would find at a nursery (as I referenced in the text above). Some of the material is sent to the central valley as a fuel and some is used onsite at the Simi Landfill to “re-landscape” after soil cover has been placed.

Also, the company that manages Waste Management’s green waste is called Agromin and can be found at www.agromin.com.

Runkle Canyon is NOT Toxic! Let’s Move On!

We need to rely on good, sound science
– Steve Sojka

This past Monday, I missed the City Council meeting where the status of Runkle Canyon was discussed. I caught the playback and was fascinated by what I saw!

I can’t help but wonder if the Radiation Rangers are hysterical, or if they’re just trying to be overly sensational to prevent a developer from building homes in their backyards. The presentation started with Radiation Ranger Patty Coryell, considered the founder of the Radiation Rangers. She introduced Michael Collins, a reporter who hardly comes off as objective. He spoke of mysterious white substances, unknown tar like substances, and “suspicious looking water.” Interesting stuff. But none of it proves contamination. He voiced concerns about possible contamination of drinking water. He had slides with pretty maps. It was compelling. Also, he makes a living writing about evil developers who build on tainted land. The presentation concluded with a resident who’s face I couldn’t see. His job was apparently to add no value to the presentation aside from saying “let this soak into your brains” which Glen Becerra had the opportunity to say back later in the meeting. Like I said… compelling.

Mr Riley, on the other hand, joined the council meeting directly after with a presentation from the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC). He discussed openly that he and his department had been in contact with KB Homes and that KB Homes had responded favorably and with cooperation as did Runkle Canyon, LLC. He indicated that they opened their test results to scrutiny. He also discovered that the mysterious white substance was located not only on the property in question, but that it was also located in other areas throughout Simi. Analysis concluded that it was a naturally occurring mineral salt, completely unrelated to the Santa Susana Field Lab. The black tar substance is apparently a result of a gravel mining effort and, while ugly, is not contamination. After several questions from the council, Mr. Riley finally answered the one that I was waiting for all night which was that he had no plans at this point to indicate that the land was unsafe on which to build.

And yet, if you check the hysterical website of the Radiation Rangers, they have a big red banner above a photo of harmless white mineral salt that reads…

What’s wrong with this picture?

Well, it turns out nothing is wrong. And regarding any ideas of a supplemental EIR (Environmental Impact Report) the city manager concludes that there is no purpose to do a supplemental EIR just for the sake of doing an EIR. It’ll happen when the time is right.

I’m annoyed by the hysteria the Radiation Rangers have spun. People eat that stuff up.  Some poor bastard embarrassingly approached the podium at the council meeting to sternly lecture the council and inform them that if he “finds out that he’s drinking contaminated water and the council did nothing about it, he’s going to hold them all personally responsible.”  How obnoxious and uninformed.  I blame that individual for being uninformed, but I point the blame at the Radiation Rangers as well.

As far as what I learned from Monday night’s council meeting, I feel pleased and informed. Easily one of the best council meetings ever. Plus, it’s good to see science and facts beat out hysteria and sensationalism.

On a much sadder note, the content of salt on the property is such that snails and slugs are required to relocate. Rumor has it, a new group called the Snail Rangers has formed to investigate the mysterious bubbling effect that takes place on snails and slugs when they come into contact with the mysterious white substance. More on this soon…

The Candidates Forum

An eventful trip, even without my video camera. I enjoyed some good presentations, some questionable ones, flirting with Barbra Williamson, cheering on Bruce Witkin, and Steve Sojka politely and professionally suggesting that I might be an asshole… he may be on to something.

Check back for an explanation on Mr. Sojka’s view on my position on the Shop Simi Valley First Campaign and my interview with the very engaging Mr. Jashinsky.

Simi Valley Candidates Forum
http://mediaservices.myspace.com/services/media/embed.aspx/m=44699410,t=1,mt=video